Syria, 6th century
Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris
Forty-three leaves of a fragmentary Gospel book are preserved in the Codex Sinopensis. All contain the text of Matthew written in large gold uncials on fine purple vellum; five have narrative illustrations in the lower margins. The miniatures are closely tied to the text, both physically and in iconographic detail. The scenes showing Salome receiving the head of John the Baptist and John's disciples discovering his body, for example, directly precede the account of the martyrdom in Matt. 14. The Sinope miniatures were probably excerpted from a richly illustrated Gospel cycle, like a much later example in Florence. As in the Rossano Gospels, to which the Sinopensis is related in style, paleography, and text, Old Testament figures accompany each narrative illustration and establish the providential nature of the Old Testament. The scene of Christ healing the blind men of Jericho (Matt. 20:31-34), for example, is flanked by portraits of David and Isaiah holding scrolls that bear the quotations "thou hast kept close guard before me and behind and hast spread thy hand over me" (Ps. 139:5) and "then shall blind men's eyes be opened" (Isa. 34:5).
The Bible story is enacted by delicately painted figures, whose gestures and gazes convey a mood of fervor and tension. Compared to the illustrations of the Vienna Genesis and Rossano Gospels, the pictures are quite spare. The figures are painted directly on the tinted vellum and there are few landscape or architectural embellishments. Connections with the Rossano manuscript and the Florence Gospels indicate that the Sinope pictures were excerpted from a rich narrative cycle.